AP® Exam Study Guide

With AP testing just around the corner, it’s time to create an AP exam study plan that will help you succeed on your exams. Whether you are looking for tips on how to study for AP exams or resources to help with studying, the following AP Study Guide can help you best prepare for your AP exams and achieve the highest scores possible.

When should I start studying for AP exams?

The sooner you can start studying for the AP exams, the more time you will have to practice strategies that can help you ace them. Typically, students start reviewing content 1 to 3 months before the AP test and switch to taking practice exams closer to the exam date. When determining the timing of your AP exam study plan, remember:
  • It will take time to collect and organize review materials and to make a study schedule.
  • The time it takes you to review the concepts covered throughout the course will be based on your study strategy. If you need to watch videos to relearn the concepts, you need to give yourself more time to study.
  • You want to spend at least two weeks before the test day taking practice exams and identifying concepts that need more practice.
The more time you give yourself to study for your AP exams, the less time you will need to devote to studying each day, and the more likely you will retain the material. In the next section of this AP study guide, there are examples of a 2-week, 1-month, or 3-month AP exam study plan.

How Do I Create an AP Exam Study Plan?

Before diving into studying, create an AP exam study plan to keep you on track while studying. Remember to maintain a flexible schedule so that any changes won’t derail your study goals. When setting up your plan, it is more important to determine what you want to accomplish each week you spend studying instead of each day. Depending on the number of AP exams you will take, plan on studying 1 to 3 hours each day for 3 to 5 days a week. When establishing a study schedule, use the Course and Exam Description (CED) for each course as a guide. For each course, the CED organizes learning concepts into units. The easiest way to create a study schedule is to split the number of units in the CED by the number of weeks you have to study, making sure to leave time to practice AP-style questions.  Here are examples of AP exam study plans for an 8-unit course:

3-month AP exam study plan.

If you have three months to study for an 8-unit course, plan to cover one unit from the CED per week and use the last month before the AP test to practice questions and take full-length practice exams. Plan on studying at least 1 to 2 hours each day for 3 days a week. Keep in mind that your study habits can increase or decrease the amount of time you need to study and that you might need to increase the weekly amount of time when you start taking full-length practice exams.

The benefit of this plan is that you have more time to watch review videos, make flashcards, practice AP-style questions, and relearn any concepts that you missed to better prepare yourself for the exam.

1-month AP exam study plan.

If you have one month to study for the AP exam, you will need to cover more units in a shorter amount of time while still allowing enough time to take a practice exam. For an 8-unit course, it would be best to split up the units over three weeks and give yourself one week to practice for the exam. If you can make the time, practice multiple-choice and free-response questions during the first three weeks of content review.

To get the most out of this study plan, make time to study at least 2 hours each day for 5 days a week.

2-week AP exam study plan.

While two weeks to prepare for an AP exam is not ideal, you can make this time frame work if you performed well on assessments throughout the course and only need minimal content review. Plan on spending these two weeks practicing free-response questions and taking full-length practice exams. The questions you missed while practicing can determine the content review you need to focus on in the days before the exam.

To fully prepare for the AP exam on this study plan, you should make time to study at least 4 hours each day for 5 days a week.

After you have determined how much time you plan to spend on studying, read the following sections in this AP study guide for best practices on how to study for AP exams to get the most out of your time.

How To Study for AP Exams

Once you’ve made a study plan, stick to it, and you will give yourself the best chance to ace your exams. Review the following tips on how to study for AP exams:
  1. Organize your study materials with the CED. Materials that will help you the most in your studies include the CED, notes taken in class, old tests and quizzes, and review videos, such as those found on AP Classroom or YouTube. Organize these materials in the unit order of the CED to easily match what is expected from you on the AP test.
  2. Review the concepts covered in the CED. When reviewing concepts in the CED, it is best to use your past tests and quizzes to evaluate your knowledge of each concept. While it is important to refresh your memory on all the materials to be fully prepared for the AP exam, make sure you spend more time reviewing concepts you underperformed on. For these concepts, supplement the content from the CED and notes with materials not provided in class, such as YouTube videos posted by educators. Hearing the information differently may help you understand it better. If you are taking an AP exam without first taking the course, plan extra time in your study schedule to take notes from the review videos and take a practice exam to identify the concepts you need to focus more time on.
  3. Practice! Leave time in your schedule to take at least one or two full-length practice tests before the exam date. When taking a practice test, try to mimic the test day experience. Here’s how to do that:
    • test yourself in a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed,
    • do not use any notes or information that will not be provided to you on exam day,
    • use a timer to take each section in the allotted time, and
    • only take breaks between each section.
    After the first practice test, review the concepts you missed before attempting another one. Through repeated practice, you can work on strategies to test more efficiently and focus your studying on the concepts and question types you find more difficult. You can find free-response questions and practice tests for most subjects through College Board® or UWorld.

How To Study for Multiple AP Exams at Once

If taking more than one AP exam, it is important that you start studying early and arrange your study schedule with your test dates in mind. In order to cover more courses in a week, you will have less time to study per class and it will be best to make an AP exam study plan that decreases the number of units you need to review per week, such as the 3-month plan found earlier in this AP study guide.

When studying for multiple exams, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of material you need to cover and experience anxiety or burnout. To help avoid this, keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure to take a 1 to 2-day study break each week. 
  • Break up long study sessions to increase focus while studying. 
  • Only focus on one course at a time and take a long break between studying different courses. For example, only study for one AP exam on one day and study for a different AP exam the next day or study for one AP exam during lunch or an off period and study for a different AP exam after school. This method will help you focus better on a single subject and increase retention.
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What Is the Best Way To Prepare for AP Exams?

When preparing for AP exams, how well you study is more important than how long you study. Study in a location with minimal distractions to help you focus; if you lose focus and cannot concentrate, take a break. Studying for three consecutive hours when you could only concentrate for 30 minutes wastes time you could spend doing something more productive. This inefficient studying will not benefit you. When you realize your studying is no longer productive, take a break—go for a walk, stretch, exercise, and then try again later. Other techniques that can help improve the quality of your study habits:
  • Use study methods that have worked for you in the past instead of wasting time on those that haven’t worked.
  • Don’t waste time on concepts you already understand.
  • Most AP exams are designed for concept application and connection rather than rote memorization. You can tailor your study habits to make these connections by teaching peers in a study group or by making diagrams that visually represent these connections, also called mind maps. Using these techniques can also boost your retention of the material.
  • Practice the way you plan on testing on exam day. When practicing timed tests, skip questions that take too long to answer, and then go back and spend the necessary time on them at the end.

AP Exam Study Materials

When studying for your AP exams, you want to use resources that will best prepare you to achieve the highest score possible. Use the following resources to help you:
  1. The Course and Exam Description (CED) The CED provides details, practice skills, and learning topics tested on the exam and includes sample AP questions. It is an excellent resource to help organize your AP exam study plan, plus it provides great content for making flashcards.
  2. Free-Response Questions The College Board provides free-response questions from previous years for each exam, along with scoring guidelines and sample student responses. These are useful tools to understand the types of free-response questions you will see on the AP exam. Practicing free-response questions with a study group can help you better understand the task verbs within each question and how to be more specific in your answers.
  3. UWorld AP Exam Prep UWorld provides AP practice tests and individual practice questions with detailed explanations. This resource helps you practice AP-style questions and gives thorough explanations that cover learning topics from the CED as well as each wrong answer choice. Every explanation has a visual representation of each learning topic, which you can also use to make flashcards for further review.
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Illustration of various methods to estimate the area under a curve from UWorld's AP course
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Illustration of linear and nonlinear negative associations in scatterplots from UWorld's AP course

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

The length of time it takes to study for an AP exam differs from one person to another. It is always better to give yourself more time to prepare, instead of cramming. These AP exams are designed to be like a final exam with multiple-choice and free-response questions. You need to give yourself enough time to review all the course material and practice each question type before the AP exam day. Plan on giving yourself at least one to three months to properly study the material before the AP exam.

It’s critical to avoid any last-minute cramming the day before the AP exam. You want to be well-rested and alert while taking your AP exam so that you perform your best. Make sure to eat a good meal, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and pack everything you will need for your exam the night before.

On exam day, bring #2 pencils with erasers for the multiple-choice section of the exam and blue or black ink pens for the free-response section. Bring water and snacks for breaks, dress comfortably, and bring a sweatshirt in case the testing room is cold. If your exam allows calculators, bring an approved calculator with extra batteries. Visit College Board for a full list of items you should bring on exam day.

Although some students have the ability to retain knowledge from their AP course and do well on AP exams without studying, these exams are designed to test the knowledge from a college-level course and typically require studying to pass them. 

References

College Board: Student Score Distribution AP
Crux Research Inc.: Unpublished institutional research
The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation
College Outcomes Comparisons by AP and Non-AP High School Experiences – The College Board
The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation – National Center for Educational Accountability

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